We Collaborate or Else

It’s 2012 and the world continues to change at a startling pace. Along with ongoing economic upheaval in Europe and the US, the Arab Spring and the iPad, there is another revolution under way.

An entire generation of empowered audiences is muscling its way into the hallowed chambers of marketing. They are a generation born into smartphones and tablets, a generation that instinctively believes in the two-way social conversation, and most importantly, an increasingly digitally distracted and time poor audience.

The reaction to this revolution from the marketing and communications community has been along two diametrically opposed lines. One continues to insist on the primacy of the mass media-led creative idea. The second abdicates all responsibility and talks about ‘crowd-sourced’ creativity. Needless to say, there is an increasing realisation that both these extreme perspectives are flawed.

But one thing has not changed, to create infectious content you need a brilliant idea.


Firstly, as well articulated by Katja Bressette in ‘Deeply understanding the mind to unmask the inner human’, we are not dealing with the ‘homo economicus’ -the rational human being who makes decisions purely based on reason, but with the “homo emoticus” – the emotional human being.

Secondly, the brain expends only two per cent of its energy on conscious activity, with the rest devoted largely to unconscious processing. Thus, traditional market research methods — like consumer surveys and focus
groups — have trouble sifting the brilliant creative ideas from the average ones, because the participants can never articulate the unconscious impressions that whet their appetites for certain products.

These two discoveries imply that we have to fundamentally re-think our creative process. For really contagious ideas, we need to engage with the emotional subconscious in our consumers. And we need to find new ways of collaborating with consumers to understand what they really want.


One way to get, quite literally, into the head of the consumer is neuroscience. Neuroscience is the study of the nervous system that can create images of which parts of the brain someone is using, so you will get a greater understanding of how they are feeling when introduced to certain stimuli – such as your latest marketing campaign.
This is more than just a new-fangled research methodology. It gives us the ability to directly talk to the brain, the seat of all our emotional impulses, to decipher how consumers feel. Crucially, neuroscience allows us to unearth powerful insights into people’s thoughts and feelings, insights that marketers can then use to develop accurate communication strategies that resonate within our consumers’ minds.

Neuroscience has the capability to define the future of marketing – it is unlocking the power of emotions and changing the way we listen, converse, persuade, engage and sell.

For starters, instead of searching for the next product feature or selling point, we seek to understand the emotional spaces evoked by the product in consumers’ subconscious. By using neuroscience techniques like fMRI* or Implicit Associations, we can unearth the fundamental motivations addressed by the category, product or brand.

An illustration of this – diet foods are not really about slimming down, but about insecurity. Such insights help create ideas that target these primal motivations rather than the external results. Needless to say, such ideas also have a head start on consumer broadcast.

Secondly, we use neuroscience techniques to sift out our best creative ideas. Neuroscience techniques like EEG* help us get a quick and direct evaluation of the subconscious impact of our most audacious ideas.

This is a radically improved method over conventional focus groups. When asked outright in surveys and groups, consumers will provide answers, of course, but those answers may be incomplete at best and quite misleading at worst.

As David Ogilvy said “The trouble with market research is that consumers don’t think how they feel, they don’t say what they think, and they don’t do what they say” Much to our relief today, neuroscience helps us directly understand how consumers feel rather than go through the say-think-feel enigma.

Last, but not the least, we can use Neuroscience methods to refine and fine-tune our final creative product. Eye tracking* methods help understand the specific frames, within the creative product, that are driving or detracting consumer attention. Armed with such knowledge, creative directors can optimise their creative product for maximum impact.


Neuroscience cannot be ignored and is an integral part of the future of marketing. In the not-too-distant future, the creative director will co-create a contagious idea not just with his immediate creative team but in collaboration with the subconscious of the consumer, something that naturally has the potency to be virally shared between consumers.

The future is here. Can you afford to ignore it?

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